Birds – Least Flycatcher

(Empidonax minimus)

Called also : CHEBEC

Length—5 to 5.5 inches. About an inch smaller than the English sparrow.

Male—Gray or olive-gray above, paler on wings and lower part of back, and a more distinct olive-green on head. Underneath grayish white, sometimes faintly suffused with pale yellow. Wings have whitish bars. White eye-ring. Lower half of bill horn-color.

Female—Is slightly more yellowish underneath.

Range—Eastern North America, from tropics northward to Quebec. Migrations—May. September. Common summer resident.

This, the smallest member of its family, takes the place of-the more southerly Acadian flycatcher, throughout New England and the region of the Great Lakes. But, unlike his Southern relative, he prefers orchards and gardens close to our homes for his hunting grounds rather than the wet recesses of the forests. Che-bec, che-bec, the diminutive olive-pated gray sprite calls out from the orchard between his aerial sallies after the passing insects that have been attracted by the decaying fruit, and chebec is the name by which many New Englanders know him.

While giving this characteristic call-note, with drooping, jerking tail, trembling wings, and uplifted parti-colored bill, he looks unnerved and limp by the effort it has cost him. But in the next instant a gnat flies past. How quickly the bird recovers itself, and charges full-tilt at his passing dinner! The sharp click of his little bill proves that he has not missed his aim; and after careering about in the air another minute or two, looking for more game to snap up on the wing, he will return to the same perch and take up his familiar refrain. Without hearing this call-note one might often mistake the bird for either the wood pewee or the phoebe, for all the three are similarly clothed and have many traits in common. The slightly larger size of the phoebe and pewee is not always apparent when they are seen perching on the trees. Unlike the ” tuft of hay ” to which the Acadian flycatcher’s nest has been likened, the least flycatcher’s home is a neat, substantial cup-shaped cradle softly lined with down or horsehair, and placed generally in an upright crotch of a tree, well above the ground.